One of the best-known artists of the Edo period and famous for his ukiyo-e series 36 Views of Mount Fuji, which includes his ubiquitous wave print, Katsushika Hokusai greatly influenced artists from Monet and the Impressionists to Picasso. Hokusai began painting at age six, instigating a lifetime dedicated to both serious and casual art-making, which he viewed as an expression of self-help. He was also known as a marketing maverick, popularizing his work and attracting students with a series of sketchbooks he called manga; he produced 12 during his lifetime and three were published after his death. The hugely impressive collection includes an array of seemingly effortless sketches and studies of people, animals, nature and more that capture emotions with impeccable detail.
Typically the notebooks are sold separately or in a multi-volume set, but this new edition combines all 15 of Hokusai’s notebooks into a single tome. The 970-page anthology contains more than 3,900 individual drawings, paintings and woodblock prints “sketched at random and in a carefree manner.”
The massive book opens with a brief tutorial of sorts in “geometrical construction.” Hokusai breaks down his subjects to their most basic forms, components so simple he drew them with only a compass and ruler. Here one can see his use of overlapping flat circles to achieve a sense of volume and depth, and conversely consecutive circles drawn in a row to create a sense of flatness.
Further into the collection one can see both paintings and sketches, which showcase Hokusai’s extreme control with both fine and broad brush techniques. Hokusai Manga keeps the reader, or viewer, in a constant state of curiosity, changing subjects from page to page. This of course is due to Hokusai’s own exploratory eye that led him to sketch anything and everything that caught his attention, a spirit exemplified in the many humorous portrait-style paintings and detailed caricature drawings.
Hokusai Manga can be found on Amazon for $43.